Crivello conquers concussion

The senior rugby player talks setbacks and comebacks

(Centre) Emma Crivello powers through Guelph defenders.
Credit: 
Supplied by Emma Crivello

Concussions are a frightening prospect for athletes whose performance depends on hurtling full-speed at their opponents. Emma Crivello, a flanker for the Queen’s rugby team, knows them all too well.

Severe headaches, sensitivity to light, an inability to focus: the three symptoms that conspire to debilitate sufferers. 

Crivello has had two major concussions over her career with Queen’s, one suffered off-field, and another during practice—as well as one “off-the-record” concussion before she joined the Gaels.  

Hopeful for the future, since her last concussion, she’s fought her way back to the pitch.

“Every concussion is different for every person,” Crivello said in a phone interview with The Journal. “Personally, I found that my vision was impacted, I had trouble seeing distances, whenever I tried to focus it was really blurry, the more I tried to focus the more it impacted my headaches, and that just led to feeling very foggy, groggy.”

Traumatic brain injuries, a subsection of injury to which concussions belong, are part of the often unseen morbid reality of contact sports. This is a reality obscured by the status and acclaim that comes along with playing high performance sports. 

Crivello was rightfully worried after her second major concussion. 

She had a candid meeting with her coach, Dan Valley, about her future. 

“There was definitely a huge part of me that thought that [a comeback] might not happen and I did have to have that conversation with my coach which was really tough, because he knew that I had come back from a pretty bad concussion the year prior.”

She said that the meeting was constructive and that Valley’s primary concern was her wellbeing, which gave her a sense of comfort and reassurance about her decision-making process.

“Concussions are something that we obviously know not to mess around with, it was something that I had to think about very carefully,” she said. “I basically told him that I wanted to take the season off to see if I could have a chance to play again.”

Crivello went through extensive rehabilitation for her concussion, working closely with physical therapists and specialists to track her progress. In the meantime, her teammates missed her on the pitch.

“As an athlete, Emma brings a level of versatility that not everyone has,” says her teammate Lydia Salgo. “She can play in so many different positions on the field […] From an attitude perspective, Emma brings positivity, leadership, and dedication.”

“Regardless of what is going on in her personal and academic life, when she gets on the field to practice or play, her attention is only on becoming a better rugby player, performing at her best, and helping those around her do the same.”

Crivello made her return to the field earlier in the month, playing against the Montreal Barbarians as a member of the Kingston Panthers.

She scored a try in the opening minutes of the game.

“It gave me a sense of relief. It was like, ‘Okay, we are back and we are ready to roll.’ [It was] definitely a good start to the game—definitely very reassuring.”

Especially considering her return to form, Crivello has her eyes set on the looming season.

“I think that we have a really good group of recruits coming in and we are fortunate enough to have [head coach] Dan Valley and all of our other coaches … a large group of us are staying [in Kingston] and training to get that OUA gold, to make it all the way to nationals.”

“We definitely have the capacity to go all the way. We just need to apply everything we have been working on and be relentless.”

In spite of her quick acclimatization to the game, Crivello recognizes that all her progress could be for naught if she re-injures herself.

“I find that there are moments when I notice I am not as reckless as I used to be and feel a bit more timid.

“That’s something that can be more dangerous than anything.”

But with the help of her physical therapists and support of the Queen’s coaching staff, Crivello feels like she’s on track to get back to playing at her full potential.

“Once my symptoms were completely clear, I slowly started to progress and work back into contact, and so I wasn’t throwing myself right back into the game. 

I got to build my confidence back up piece by piece and I think that has definitely led me back to the place where I am now.” 

“I’m back into playing games, and I can smash people.”

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